That Time I Asked Maya Angelou About 2Pac

From my oral history of 2Pac’s acting career (Vibe Magazine, October/November 2011) 


What do you remember about 2Pac during Poetic Justice?  

I listened to him. I heard him cursing and using such vulgarity. I passed by and he saw me and he didn’t stop, which was unusual. Usually, young men and women, white and black and others, when I pass by, they kind of pull their voices in and hold up for a little while. He didn’t. Then the next day he didn’t. Then the following day, he was in a big row with another young man about his age. All the extras began to run. I think they were afraid of the possibility of a random shooting. I went up to one of them and told him, I want to speak to you, please. He calmed down enough for me to ask him, “Do you know how important you are? When was the last time anybody told you or reminded you that our people stood on auction blocks so that you could live today? Somebody in your background decided they would stay alive despite this. They laid in the filthy hatches of slave ships to stay alive so that they would have some descendants. And here you are. You’re more valuable than you can imagine.” I talked to him and he calmed down. Later, when he wept and I wiped his face with my hands because I didn’t have a napkin or handkerchief. Then we turned back to our location. I went to my trailer and Janet Jackson came and said, “Dr. Angelou, I can’t believe you actually spoke to Tupac Shakur.” I said, “Who is that?” I didn’t know six pack or eight pack or ten pack. I didn’t know. In my age group and my interests at the time, I’d never encountered the name. After I did so, I began to look into what he was doing and I think that because a number of people thought that in order to be funny and relevant and to be listened to, you had to use profanity. The meaning of his poetry is really revolutionary and once I listened to that, it made me have a different look at his work—even after that experience in the park in Los Angeles, to look at that differently. I later met his mother and she thanked me and said, “You may have saved my son’s life that day. Thank you.” She said that he called her and told her everything I had said to him.

Did you ever talk to him again?
No, I did listen to his recordings. I saw what he was about. The rebel with the cause can hide behind all sorts of disguises. But Tupac Shakur was a rebel with a cause. He was a revolutionary.